Buying and selling a property is a legal process that transfers ownership from the seller to the buyer, known as conveyancing.
You can use either a solicitor who specialises in conveyancing or a trained licensed conveyancer to help you through the process. Your conveyancer will carry out various checks on the property you are buying, prepare contracts between the buyer and seller, and record you as the owner with the Land Registry. Mortgage lenders also require legal confirmation of ownership so they can lend you the money to buy the property.
First ask family, friends and colleagues for recommendations. The developer or estate agent you are buying from may also suggest using their appointed conveyancer, or discount the legal fees; you are under no obligation to accept, although they may progress the sale more quickly.
Check if your mortgage lender only works with certain conveyancers on their approved panel, then use a price comparison site to get three quotes. Always read customer reviews to gauge the quality of service.
A solicitor doesn’t have to be local to where you live, as much of the work is now done remotely. All solicitors are members of the Law Society and conveyancers should be a member of the Council for Licenced Conveyancers or the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Conveyancing tends to cost between £500 and £1,000 plus VAT but the cheapest isn’t always the best.
You may find the quotes vary widely so ask for a full breakdown of costs that will include ‘disbursements’ such as Land Registry fees and telegraphic transfers, and which should be the exact cost of the expense your solicitor has paid. Their fee for the whole service should appear separately.
You will have to pay for an ID check for each person buying the property so this could also add to the cost. Quotes are usually only valid for three months and you should check what you will be refunded if the sale falls through.
You should consider getting quotes before you put in an offer so you are ready to go as soon as you find a property.
You may be asked to pay for the Local Authority searches up front but you will need to settle the whole fee when you complete the buying process.
You will also be asked to transfer the money for the deposit and stamp duty payable to the solicitor in advance so the funds are cleared in time to complete.
You will be asked for proof of identity (a current signed passport or full photo driving license) and proof of your current address (e.g. utility bill, bank statement or council tax bill dated within the last three months). You will also need a mortgage offer from your lender before contracts can be exchanged.
The conveyancer will request or prepare draft contracts and obtain all the information on the property you are buying including its title deeds, what is included in the purchase, freehold or leasehold details, local authority searches for planning and environmental searches including flood reports. They will also check your mortgage offer.
Once all the questions have been answered, and you and they are happy, you will be advised how much money you will need for the deposit, stamp duty and solicitors’ fees and will be asked to sign the contract.
This will then be exchanged with the buyer’s signed contract. At this point you will be committed to the purchase or you will forfeit your deposit and other costs. The process will take at least three months, often longer if a chain is involved.
Ask who will be communicating with you and how often. Weekly updates from an assigned person are good so that you can build up a rapport and keep track of progress. You may be sent some documents to check by email so you may have to print these out to read.
Always ask your solicitor for clarification if you don’t understand anything.
Complain to the solicitor in the first instance and try to get the problem resolved. If not, you can use the company’s complaints procedure, or make a complaint to the professional body they belong to or the Legal Services Ombudsman www.legalombudsman.org.uk.